9/11 still causing new health problems

New York – Intense, prolonged exposure to the World Trade Center attack is causing new health problems years later, according to researchers.

Robert M Brackbill of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Columbia University examined the incidence of two of the most commonly reported health outcomes: asthma and symptoms indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among adults five to six years after the attack. They used data from the World Trade Center Health Registry, the largest post-disaster exposure registry in US history.

The researchers found that, overall, 10.2 percent of people with no prior history of asthma suffered from it afterwards. Thirty-nine percent of all respondents reporting postevent diagnoses of asthma also reported intense dust cloud exposure.

“These analyses confirm that intense dust cloud exposure was associated with new asthma diagnoses for each eligibility group, including the 1,913 passersby who only had exposure to the area air and dust on September 11,” the authors write.

Of the adults without a PTSD diagnosis before September 11, 23.8 percent screened positive for symptoms. At the five-year follow-up, the prevalence increased in every group. Passersby had the highest levels of symptoms, at 23.2 percent, while residents had the lowest at 16.3 percent. Rescue/recovery workers were most likely to suffer from late-onset symptoms.

The researchers said that, applying reported outcome rates from the follow-up survey results to the approximately 409,000 potentially exposed persons, roughly 25,500 adults are estimated to have experienced post-event asthma and 61,000 are estimated to have experienced symptoms indicative of probable PTSD.

“Our findings confirm that, after a terrorist attack, mental health conditions can persist if not identified and adequately treated and that a substantial number of exposed persons may develop late-onset symptoms. Our study highlights the need for surveillance, outreach, treatment, and evaluation of efforts for many years following a disaster to prevent and mitigate health consequences,” the authors conclude.

Details are published in JAMA.